Eva Chen is kind of a big deal. She has a really cool job at Instagram. She's funny. She's fashionable. And, most importantly, she keeps it real. On April 12, she'll step up to the podium at the Gibbes' annual Art of Design luncheon, a philanthropic event hosted by the Women's Council. Over the past nine years, the event has brought in VIPs like Downton Abbey jewelry designer Andrew Price, HGTV's Vern Yip, fashion critic Cathy Horyn, and Vogue's Hamish Bowles. Not that Chen needs any name dropping to prop up her succession to the Gibbes' mic. She may be one of their most inspiring and influential speakers to date.
"It's just completely blown up. Every year the speakers are getting better," says special events manager Jena Clem. "It's something we want to continue to grow, not only for the support of the Gibbes, but because we want people to have a good time and learn something."
Chen's career is a perfect marriage of both art and design. At Insta she's responsible for integrating fashion brands into the platform and has a big influence on how the technology operates. "Instagram just recently rolled out a feature where you can scroll and see something and purchase it right then and there. It's two clicks and done, kind of like Apple Pay," explains Clem.
Chen has been called the "Anna Wintour of the Digital Age," perhaps because Wintour hand selected her as editor-in-chief of Lucky Magazine. (She was the youngest editor in the magazine's history.) Or perhaps it's because both are badass bosses in the world of fashion. But if you follow Chen on Instagram, you'll discover a personality that seems a far cry from the emotionally detached mastermind represented by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. If Wintour is an earnest A-line dress paired with a sunglasses shield, Chen is sassy street-chic with playful shoes propped up on the backseat of a New York City cab. (Chen actually does snap pics of her stylish shoes during regular taxi commuting, prompting the Instagram trend #evachenpose.)
The Eva Chen we see today is not the Eva Chen she expected to become. As a kid, she never felt like she fit in. She was the loner on the playground reading a book. Following the route that she thought she was supposed to take in life, she ended up as a pre-med student at Johns Hopkins. Then along came an internship opportunity at Harper's Bazaar. Maybe it's time to try something different, she thought. She never looked back. She'd finally found a way to express herself and shed her awkward kid shell.
It makes sense that Instagram, which is all about personal branding, would be such a perfect fit for her. She shares every detail of daily life with her 1.1 million followers, but she admits she's somewhat of an introvert. Insta is a place to comfortably be social and expressive. With social media or with fashion, it's never been about the labels and trends for Chen as much as the rewarding pursuit of celebrating individuality. "It's funny when we'll get into planning meetings with the Art of Design committee, and someone will speak of Eva as though they know her because she's so real on social media," says Clem.
More importantly, Chen advocates for everyone to celebrate their individuality, making her the perfect speaker for the event. "Not only does she have the fashion and art background, but she also has a big platform for women's empowerment. That's something we really wanted to bring to the Art of Design luncheon this year," says Clem. "It was really important for the Women's Council and for the Art of Design committee to bring in someone who has the platform to really inspire others, to let people know it's OK to be who you are."
Chen's even authored two children's books: Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes and A is for Awesome, both meant to teach young girls how to celebrate individuality in themselves and in others. It's fitting, then, that the proceeds from this event go toward the Gibbes' Education and Outreach Programs which support arts education for local students, often from marginalized communities. "The goal is to not let the art be lost with the next generation," says Clem.
This luncheon is sold out. Check out more Gibbes events online at gibbesmuseum.org.